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Faking a Graduated Neutral Density Filter in Camera, Lightroom and Photoshop

Ever been out and with your camera and see a great shot but when you get to process it the sky is all blown out and no amount of processing can get it back to how it looked?  Well, one of the ways to get around this is to use graduated neutral density filters, but you may not always have them with you so there is another way.  This alternative method involves a few camera controls and (don’t run away) HDR!

Proviso, this method is very good but not 100% foolproof so don’t expect perfect results every time and you need Photoshop CS6 to get the best results.

First up, you need to set your camera up to auto bracket.  Most DSLRs have this option, usually buried away in its menus; if you can’t find it have a look in the manual, you know that thing you took out of the box and never read.  Once you have worked how to set auto bracket set it to expose 1 stop either side of the “normal” exposure.  Next set the motor-drive (I’m old and still call it that) to it fastest speed.  Frame up your shot and fire away, hopefully the camera will shoot three frame in rapid succession.

Upload your images to Lightroom but don’t process them yet.  Once in Lightroom select a group of three images by clicking on the first image and shift clicking on the third.


Once selected, click on Photo – Edit In – Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop. After a bit of faffing around Photoshop will create a composite of the three image in HDR Pro.


All you have to do now is click on Remove ghosts and then click OK.  A combined image will be created in the main Photoshop window.


The saved image will now be available in Lightroom where it can be processed like any other image and it won’t look like its an HDR image either!



P.S. excuse my none too good landscapes, I lack the necessary patience for landscapes.

About Richard Hales (35 Articles)
Richard’s first foray into was photography was as an apprentice photographer for Oxford University over 20 years ago. From there Richard went on to study photography at University somehow gaining a BA & MA, he still is rather confused how he managed to do this. After University and an unfinished (and un-started) PhD Richard “retired” from photography for a few years to pursue a career in wine and, oddly, scrap metal before returning to photography and setting up a wedding and portrait photography business in Worcestershire. As well as running his photography business Richard is currently working on a bread & jam making book. He is the average height for a Nut.

2 Comments on Faking a Graduated Neutral Density Filter in Camera, Lightroom and Photoshop

  1. Daniel thomassin // 04/05/2013 at 11:26 am //

    Bonjour et un grand Merci pour votre tutoriel qui va être bien utile !!
    Je vous souhaite un bon weekend à vous et vos collaborateur vous faite un travail
    d’une grande efficacité se qui me permet au quotidien d’apprendre un peu plus .


  2. Thanks for the comment Dan, which according to Google translate is:
    “Hello and a big thank you for your tutorial will be very useful!
    I wish you a good weekend for you and your employee you made ​​work
    a high efficiency that allows me every day to learn a little more.”

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